Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Month: November 2006 (page 1 of 2)

Late to the Party

I first stumbled upon about two years ago and was intrigued by its idea of storing the regularity with which you play all of your music and sharing it with others. At the time I was using Musicmatch Jukebox as my primary player, which was unfortunately not supported. I recently revisited the site and decided to join now that I tend to default to WMP11 (at least until the next release of Amarok which finally has a confirmed Windows port).

The basic idea is simple enough: download the small client and it will watch your music player, writing (or scrobbling) to the server whenever you play a song. This updates your profile on the site with the latest songs you’ve been playing as well as charts of your weekly and overall top artists and songs. Linking up with friend’s profiles it will also tell you how compatible your music tastes are. It’s all very Web 2.0 but has the unusual advantage that its premise is actually grounded in something that people already want. People have always wanted to share music with their friends and find out what their friends are listening to in order to discover new bands. actually provides a surprisingly intuitive way to do this.

I’ve already linked up with Philly J, El, Jon and Louis. Let me know if you’re using it as well. No doubt my played songs will reveal a few dirty secrets and guilty pleasures, but my alibi is that Kirsten also uses this computer. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

One of my major gripes with Firefox has always been its lack of true fullscreen browsing. It still leaves far too much clutter that while not using much real estate is still distracting when I want to browse fullscreen. This has finally been fixed with the excellent Autohide add-on. This lets you select exactly which elements remain in fullscreen mode and which should be autohidden (i.e. until you move your mouse over them). Decent fullscreen performance is a feature I think should be incorporated into the main browser, but until then this add-on certainly does the trick.

Stardust Stirrings

StardustI’m prepping you early for this one because it’s important. The film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust is now scheduled for release next summer. It was initially intended for an Easter release but on the strength of a rough cut the studio were confident enough to bump it up to the summer selection. This means considerably more marketing, but also stiffer competition. For a film no one’s heard of, the names attached to the project are impressive: Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sienna Miller, Robert De Niro (and a small role for one of my favs, Rupert Everett), with the proceedings helmed by Layer Cake writer-director Michael Vaughan. Its budget is a respectable Hollywood size at around $79 million. The official movie site has just stirred into life, so expect content soon.

So what is it? Essentially Stardust is a fairy tale for grown ups about a boy who leaves home to search for a fallen star. Gaiman wrote it as a novel and it was then re-relased as a fantastic illustrated work with art by Charles Vess adorning every page (“prose with decorations” as he likes to call it). Vaughan stresses that in his screenplay he has tried to ground the proceedings in reality as far as possible, unlike Pan’s Labyrinth, another mature fairy tale which fully embraces its fantasy side with out-of-this-world make-up and luscious gothic visuals. Pan’s Labyrinth, directed by Mexican Guillermo del Toro (now famous for Hellboy), is due out in a few days.

My Vitriol @ KOKO

My Vitriol @ KOKOI dragged Alex W down to Camden with me to see the gig. He’d actually been to KOKO before, though it was my first time. In return I introduced him to The End of the World pub, deceptively small as you enter, then opening up into what can only be described as an enclosed, roofed courtyard. After a couple of drinks we headed down to KOKO which proved to be a great little venue, somewhat reminiscent of the Brixton Academy but a better size (capacity a little over 1600) so that even from the balconies you still feel close to the band. It is stacked in several levels working away from the stage with a full bar at the back of the lowest and highest levels.

By strange coincidence while standing in the thick of the crowd I spotted Jon and El so we weaved our way over. El is now doing her clinical at Imperial so Jon was staying with her for the weekend. I also saw several people in the audience with the Tool t-shirt I had elected to wear and discovered they are playing a London gig on Monday — so Maynard’s “see you in November” comment at the end of the last gig turned out to be true.

Pure Reason RevolutionThe support was well chosen, particularly the fantastic opening act, Pure Reason Revolution. Experimental with definite prog rock leanings, they were really rocking out in style live. The songs definitely have enough of a hook to ensnare non-prog listeners too and they burst with energy (like “He Tried To Show Them Magic”). They have recently acquired a very atypical burly violinist which complements their sound well. A female lead vocalist/guitarist is slightly odd for this sort of affair, and Chloe Alper is certainly easy on the eyes as well as the ears. The Cinematics were less noteworthy, being a somewhat standard preppy rock outfit. To say there were allusions to Weezer would be staid, but in truth the most interesting thing about them was that their drummer could still keep time while clearly absolutely wasted.

My Vitriol took the stage without too much delay and their set ran over to a decent length. Given that they only have a single (double) album of songs, there was a good mixture of old and new material with several songs from the forthcoming release. Som was on form teasing the crowd about the delays, “I promise the new album is amazing — I guess we have no excuse after three years.” After introducing his fellow band members Som followed up with, “My name a Borat. I like you. You like me?” Most intriguingly, he also promised that the new album is “better than Chinese Democracy” implying the name has been changed (perhaps in light of the Guns n’ Roses album of the same name — he earlier proclaimed “We are the new Guns n’ Roses” in relation to the release delays). Of all the bands I have seen live, this was the first time the music sounded exactly as I expected. It was great, particularly to hear the new “We’ve Lost Our Way” (it may sound even better live than the demo they released).

PussyAfterwards, we discovered, KOKO turns into a club until about 3am so we hooked up with Jon and El again for a few drinks. Spotting a can of “Pussy” behind the bar, curiosity eventually got the better of us and we had to buy. In the shape Red Bull made common, there was debate amongst us as to whether it contained alcohol at all as none was discernible by taste. It turns out to be a new “natural” energy drink without caffeine or taurine and consequently without the associated negative effects. Instead it uses botanical extracts from plants like ginseng and milk thistle. It certainly tasted far too sweet for the guys but El was a big fan, voicing her concern that being “a girl from Newnham who likes Pussy” would make her some sort of stereotype…

And then it was home, grabbing a cheeky kebab (they taste so much better in London) before luckily catching the last fast train back to Cambridge.

Facebook This Story

Happy Separation of Church and State Day! Yes, that is what the Pilgrims were most thankful for.

-Stephen on Thanksgiving

A large number of our readers are Facebook users and it only takes a glance at our site statistics to see how many of you now regularly arrive through there. As such it seemed that a little more integration was due. You will now find a small Facebook icon at the bottom of each entry on the site, allowing you to “share” it through Facebook. This allows you to post it on your profile or send it directly to friends who may be interested. The idea is to provide an easy way for you to highlight interesting posts to others, store useful entries for later, or simply to collate all your favourites in one place.

The small change will hopefully be useful to Facebook/P-2006 regulars, while not getting in the way of others. Accompanying it there is also a minor alteration to the layout with a quotation at the bottom of the page replacing some defunct information. A cookie for the first person to identify the current Fragments quotation without use of search engines.

My Vitriol - GroundedTonight I’ll be heading down to Camden to see My Vitriol‘s sellout show at KOKO. The only show they are doing this year, the first time I’m seeing them, and the first chance to hear more of the new Chinese Democracy album, I’m more than a little excited. The demo of We’ve Lost Our Way sounds incredible.

Poor planning by the certain members of the Cranworth Law Society (who shall remain nameless, A— ) resulted in several of us not being able to attend the formal last night. In fairness, getting some work done to make up for tonight in London probably isn’t such a bad idea.

Bat Out Of (Extraterrestrial) Hell

My media law lecture was cancelled allowing me to listen to Alex, Jamie and Louis’ radio show, Another Planet’s Hell (Wednesdays 6-8pm, CUR1350), after quite a while. It’s still a fun show and well worth a listen, though obviously moreso when I’m free to email the studio with contributions about concept albums and Nazi dogfood (Pedigree Hun, of course), or whatever else they happen to be discussing at the time.

Flickr, the photo community, have released an interesting graph which reveals the most popular cameras amongst its users. It really highlights the success of the Canon range in particular, which I certainly agree with. I’d love a Canon EOS 400D if anyone’s feeling particularly generous this Christmas!

The new Hary Potter Trailer is out. Unless you’re a big fan, however, it’s just not that great aside from the familiar musical refrain at the end. But the comparison is inevitably with arguably one of the finest Teasers ever in Prisoner of Azkaban, which seems a little unfair.

A Dire Shortage of Virgin’s Blood

PS3 vs. WiiI’ve just become brother of the year after Gameplay confirmed that a pre-ordered Wii for my sister will be arriving on the day of launch (“Wii is yours!” being their somewhat dubious phrasing). Let’s just say I’m glad she wanted that and not one of the near mythical PS3 units that have resulted in several outbreaks of violence already. Particularly when people do this. I believe the current slow rate of production is now due to a shortage of virgin’s blood, needed to coat the lens of the blu-ray drive…

Speaking of violence on release, booking for Downing’s free Christmas Formal inevitably led to server suicide as 400 impatient students hit refresh in what would have been a perfect 10 in synchronised server slaughter, were it to become an Olympic sport. I fear they may have rules banning that level of performance-enhancing alliteration, however. The majority of the KLM crew (as Dave dubbed us) got through, but several will have to give it another go tomorrow. Whether the server will stand up to a second round of beating after being reinforced is anyone’s guess. I certainly would not want to be responsible for it right now.

For those who love Pandora as a method for discovering new music, Musicovery is a really nice visual representation of a similar concept. The user triggers the process by selecting a mood from a graph and can limit the genres if so wished. A visual array of lines is then produced with linked songs which are played in order. The user is free to navigate around to see and play similar songs in different genres. Definitely both unique and captivating to look around, particularly in genres one would not normally consider.

And for those who enjoy the fictitious boxart I occasionally produce, the latest speculates on the possible future direction of the Total War franchise.

Law Ball 2006

The annual Law Ball is infamous for its City-subsidised extravagant excess and, having been every year at Cambridge, last night’s may be the last I get to attend. The event has been held at the same location for years so attendees were curious about the decision to move it, and scepticism increased proportionally with the ticket price. The new venue was the Newmarket Race Course and people’s concerns were instantly quashed. The spacious interiors and balconies alone were worth the expense as one could now properly wander between areas rather than feeling somewhat stifled by the sheer number of people that the event inevitably attracts. The added advantage was that it allowed for multiple varieties of music at once.

The first floor featured primarily jazz with Fitz Swing kicking off the reception as the champagne flowed liberally. The second floor only opened up after dinner, featuring another dance room with a dedicated DJ and bar. Corporate sponsorship was more obvious than normal, but it was easily forgiveable given the style and range of offerings. The chocolate fountain, casino and vodka luge formed the unremarkable staples of any Ball. However the bar carved out of ice and the casino’s Martini waiter service were very slick touches, although the drinks themselves were questionable. Carlo had promised that alcohol would last the entire evening and though we scoffed at the time, the several bars had a huge tab in place with drinks available throughout the night.

Dinner itself is often something of an anticlimax after the lavishly decorated reception and I expected little of the “Supreme of Chicken and Tagliatelle”. I could not have been more wrong — the tender breast of chicken was divine, while the pasta proved a delightful aside. Desert, conversely, never fails to impress and tonight’s Belgian white chocolate ice cream proved no exception, served in a tuile basket with chocolate fondant pudding.

It was a fantastic night, arriving back in Downing at 3:30am and struggling for about 10 minutes to wake up Martin the porter since Kirsten had stolen my keys. Congratulations to everyone involved, you truly outdid yourselves. And if anyone wishes to invite me back next year, I should be more than happy to oblige.

Betting on a Better Bond

Casino Royale is fantastic. I’m inclined to leave it at that until you’ve seen it, although it was good enough to inspire a full review too. The November release date is perfect as it is far cry from the vacuous summer blockbusters we have been treated to in recent years. In some ways it harks back to the days of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but the new grounded, gritty style is all new and very welcome. The only downside is that you may have noticed the lack of a high profile theme tune being released alongside the film. That’s because it’s rubbish. Aside from that, this is finally nigh perfect action film-making for the 21st century. What the future holds for Bond has me grinning in anticipation.

We all knew the government’s proposed ID cards would inevitably end up a ruse for visibly heightened security with no actual substance. As it turns out these “secure” cards are even more hopeless than we feared asThe Guardian announce they have already been cracked. An expert reveals that, in remarkable display of ignorance, arrogance or stupidity (and quite probably all three) the encryption keys are based upon information actually found within the passport.

Returning to film news the first footage of Venom is floating around from a leaked Spider-man trailer. It looks a little rough with many of the special effects unfinished but it closes with a completed sequence showing a figure on all fours transforming in Venom, growling and then lunging forward. I have reservations about the quality of the digital effects in the film with much of it seeming too fluid and lacking any solidity. However even from just a few seconds, Venom looks just as comicbook fans will have hoped. It is wise to limit how much we see of him before the film’s release, and I assume the final trailer will include just the same few seconds. Look forward to seeing it in high definition around a month before the film’s release next year.

Finally, I mentioned Ciao! recently, and in less than a week I’ve earned a few quid through the site, so if you haven’t checked it out yet I do recommend signing up.

Halo (Non)News

Master Chief in Halo 3Bungie’s “major” press announcement yesterday was a bit of a dud. Announcing the future release of a CGI trailer several weeks away is exactly the sort of pointless, pretentious attempt at generating hype for which the studio is becoming better known than its game. Hype is good, but don’t let it overshadow the actual content. The suggestion of a public beta of Halo 3 multiplayer in spring next year is more interesting. For them to release it openly over Live will require that a lot of content is finalised meaning that a late summer release is not out of the question. Unlike PC betas where some crashing is permitted, the engine will have to be completely stable for distribution to consoles so it’s likely it’ll be pure balance testing by then. However the smart money is still on a November 2007 release like the last two, best to cash in on Christmas sales. Finally there other “big news” was yet more additional multiplayer maps for Halo 2, a game released over 2 years ago. I guess there must be someone (or rather several hundred thousand someones) still playing online, but not me. I expect Gears of War to satiate my Halo yearning for some time.

Army of TwoIn the meantime you’re better off checking out the Army of Two trailers which look to offer some genuinely innovative co-op action. Dragging a wounded team mate to safety while they continue laying down suppressing fire on the enemy is the sort of immersive bonding experience I crave. We also received a promotional copy of the Sounds of the City soundtrack from GameCity, so presumably they’d like a plug. The festival, celebrating the “hidden-industry” of videogomes, is over for this year but it looks like an interesting one, so keep an eye out for next year’s.

With Casino Royale out today, a bunch of us will be heading to see it this evening. Being a mainstream flick it’ll be at Vue again, which means I’m rather forsaking my preferred haunt, the Picturehouse. Good thing they’re just competing cinemas and not rival gangs.

Moan, Moan, Moan

I’m actually working quite hard today, so no time for a full post. In the meantime you can enjoy the dulcet — and slightly bizarre — tones of the Complaints Choir of Helsinki. Andy W will be in heaven.

Favourite lines in the comments.

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